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Devon House
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nigel DurrantDevon House

The 11 best things to do in Kingston

Get swept up by the rhythm of Jamaica's heart and soul with our guide to the very best things to do in Kingston

Written by
Estella Shardlow

So you’ve landed in the capital of Jamaica; what to do now? What are the best things to do in Kingston? Well, you could start by taking in the saccharine serenity of the Blue Mountains and the stunning natural harbor in which the city lies, but that tranquility will soon be punctured by the energy and excitement that this cultural center has in spades. If there is a city in the Caribbean that does it all, Kingston is its name.

Kingston’s role in the history and development of reggae is well known, but the vitality of this famous genre is best experienced in the surroundings that birthed it all those decades ago. The Jamaican capital’s roster of museums is as fascinating as any other in the region, while the diverse selection of restaurants will ensure there are no rumbling stomachs during your stay. Kingston at night is another experience entirely, a thrilling explosion of joy that will get even the most concrete of shoes shuffling. If you’re looking for Jamaica at its most, well, Jamaican, Kingston is the place to be.

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Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Kingston

Bob Marley Museum
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Barney Bishop

1. Bob Marley Museum

What is it? This large wooden residence is where the ultimate reggae legend lived and worked from 1975-81. Some walls are covered with photos or vibrant murals; others, like his bedroom, have been left unadorned and frozen in time.
Why go? Marley memorabilia abounds in Jamaica but nowhere else gives such fascinating, spine-tingling insights into the superstar’s life. On the one-hour tour, you’ll see some of his most treasured belongings, like his star-shaped guitar and denim stage shirt.

Coronation Market

2. Coronation Market

What is it? This enormous iron-framed hall holds the biggest market in the English-speaking Caribbean, where everything from fresh fruit to clothing to electronics is traded – and with serious panache.
Why go? Spicy cooking aromas and rapid-fire patois fill the air as you wander this bustling, vibrant showcase of Jamaican commerce. The total opposite of a touristy craft market, traders come from across the island to sell their wares, and the street food is some of the best in town.

Scotchies Jerk Center
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Linda Sellers

3. Scotchies Jerk Center

What is it? If there’s one thing you must taste in Jamaica, it’s jerk – Scotchies’ jerk, to be precise. Settle down in the rustic wooden surroundings of this waterside eatery and prepare for a feast.
Why go? What makes Scotchies the best jerk in town? Maybe it’s a secret ingredient in the marinade of hot Scotch bonnet peppers and allspice berries, or perhaps the blend of logs (pimento and sweetwood) the meat and fish are cooked on. Please Sir, can we have some more?

Emancipation Park
Photograph: Emancipation Park

4. Emancipation Park

What is it? Popular with joggers and picnickers, this grand expanse of greenery lies in the heart of New Kingston.
Why go? It’s an urban oasis, enticing you to simply laze with a book, people watch or get involved in a game of ping-pong or chess. The lawns are dotted with fountains, palm trees and sculptures – the most famous of which is a towering bronze, Emancipation Song, which symbolizes the Jamaican people’s rise from the horrors of slavery.

Stone Love HQ

5. Stone Love HQ

What is it? The city’s iconic music venue booms out dancehall – the urban electronic offspring of reggae, born in 1970s Kingston – from giant speaker stacks.
Why go? Stone Love serves up undiluted local music culture; the name is synonymous in Jamaica with high-quality sound systems and the famous on-site recording studios. Its weekly Weddy Weddy Wednesdays event is one of the most popular in town. Prepare for wild dance moves and to be up well past dawn.

Port Royal
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Ray Christofer

6. Port Royal

What is it? At the mouth of the Kingston harbor, some 40 feet under the water, lay the remains of a notorious buccaneering city. The earthquake of 1692 sent sections of Port Royal – aka "wickedest city in the west" – crumbling into the sea.
Why go? Tropical reefs and shipwrecks are all well and good, but how often do you get the chance to scuba dive to a sunken city? The site is an archaeological gold mine.

Hope Botanical Gardens
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/RoadTripWarrior

7. Hope Botanical Gardens

What is it? Kingston’s garden game is strong, and this is the largest green space in the city. Tropical colours burst into life across the bougainvillea walk and hibiscus groves.
Why go? From a waterlily-covered lake to cacti garden and hedgerow maze, there are acres of natural beauty to explore (200 to be exact), plus live concerts at the amphitheatre and a zoo where the residents range from bobcats to boa constrictors.

Devon House
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nigel Durrant

8. Devon House

What is it? Welcome to the home of Jamaica’s first black millionaire, Gorge Stiebel. Money from gold mining funded this impressive Georgian-style house and its idyllic, manicured gardens.
Why go? A tour of its antique-filled rooms shows how the upper crust lived in 19th century Jamaica, while filling you in on how an intriguing historical figure rose through the ranks. Then there’s the ice cream shop (named ‘I-Scream’) on the grounds, which many swear is the best in all of Jamaica.

The National Gallery of Jamaica
Photograph: Courtesy National Gallery of Jamaica

9. The National Gallery of Jamaica

What is it? Spanning everything from contemporary and Pre-Columbian art, this ranks as the largest and oldest public art gallery in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Why go? Discover the breadth and changing styles of Jamaican art through the centuries, a window into the nation’s history at large. From colonial landscapes to national hero Edna Manley’s bold modernist carvings and Colin Garland’s surrealist scenes, it’s a real feast for the eyes.

Life Yard
Photograph: Courtesy Life Yard

10. Life Yard

What is it? This inter-generational eco-village is using art and agriculture to empower Kingstonian kids. Created by a group of young Rastafarians, it’s all about regenerating an area of downtown Kingston historically plagued by gang problems.
Why go? Show your support for an inspired social enterprise. Admire the colourful, uplifting murals lining the street, and join in with a meal or workshop. Life Yard also offers cultural tours of Kingston, such as reggae or dancehall themed outings.

Lime Cay
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kent MacElwee

11. Lime Cay

What is it? A forested spit of land just off Kingston’s bay, this is a favorite spot for city dwellers to relax on the weekends. Boats shuttle visitors from either Morgan’s Harbour or Y-Knot. 
Why go? With its powdery white sands lapped by calm, clear water, Lime Cay delivers those Instagram-ready scenes of tropical bliss – no filter needed. A perfect escape when you’re weary from urban sightseeing.

Jamaican jerk chicken, anyone?

The 10 best restaurants in Kingston
  • Restaurants

Spicy ‘n’ smoky is the name of the game for much classic Jamaican cuisine, with rainbow-bright Scotch bonnet peppers firing up everything from jerk chicken to curry goat. Throw in the national dish of ackee and saltfish, piping hot patties and aromatic Blue Mountain coffee, and you can see why Jamaicans are so passionate about mealtimes. 

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